- Suspect: Jodie Martinez
- Victim: Christian Molina, 9
- Non-fatal victim: Mrs. Sweeney, age unlisted
- Charges: Involuntary manslaughter and assault resulting in great bodily harm
- Status: Sentenced; binding plea to assault resulting in great bodily harm
- Incident type: Crash into oncoming vehicle
- Sentence: 2 years; range of 18 to 24 months, per binding plea deal
- Date of incident: July 6, 2019
- Investigative agency: FBI
- Location: 1 mile east of BIA Route 4 on State Highway 53, Zuni Pueblo, NM
- County: McKinley County
- Relationship to victim: Mother
- Incident type: DWI
- Federal search warrant number: 19-mr-00846
- Federal District case number: 19-cr-03746
- Plea judge: Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing
- Sentencing judge: District Judge Kea Riggs
- Prosecutor: Raquel Ruiz-Velez
On July 6, 2019, Jodie Martinez, 33, allegedly slammed head-on into a truck on State Highway 53, outside Zuni. The crash killed her son, Christian Molina, 9, and left a woman in the opposite vehicle with severe injuries. Martinez allegedly tested positive for methamphetamine and allegedly admitted to using meth four days before the crash, according to an affidavit for a search warrant.
Although she was initially arrested by Zuni Police Department officers, she was not charged federally until she was indicted on Dec. 30, 2019, on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury.
On Aug. 3, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to the assault charge. Her binding plea deal, proffered by prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez and accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing sets her sentence at 18 months to 2 years.
On Nov. 20, 2020, federal District Judge Kea Riggs accepted the plea and sentenced her to 2 years in prison.
On July 6, 2019, Jodie Martinez, 33, was driving a Ford Explorer on State Highway 53, in the Zuni pueblo, when she allegedly slammed head-on into a truck (a blue GMC Sierra) driving in the opposite direction, FBI Agent Joshua Rock wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.
When Zuni Police Department officers arrived, they found the Christian Molina, 9, not breathing and unresponsive, either lying next to the Explorer or being held by Martinez. Rock also describes the Explorer, an SUV, as a truck. Molina, Martinez’s son, is neither named nor given an age in court documents.
“The child was later pronounced dead at the scene,” Rock wrote.
Martinez’s boyfriend, identified as C.R., was also in the Explorer when it crashed while Martinez’s son was in the rear passenger-side seat. Rock does not write how old the boy was. In the search warrant, Rock refers to Martinez as “J.M.” with a year of birth of 1986.
The driver of the truck allegedly Martinez crashed into received minor injuries while the passenger, his wife, “sustained serious injuries and was flown to Albuquerque, NM for medical treatment,” Rock wrote.
Rock wrote that Martinez allegedly told officers at the scene and investigators, later, two different stories about how the crash happened.
“J.M. told the officers she had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving westbound on Highway 53. When she woke up, she was in the opposite lane of travel. J.M. saw a blue pickup truck travelling in the opposite direction and tried to avoid the vehicle but was unable to react in time causing her to crash into the vehicle.”
Her story allegedly changed. Rock wrote:
“In a subsequent interview, J.M. stated a cell phone fell. J.M. reached down to pick it up and looked up and saw a truck coming. J.M. stated the truck was just there, there was no avoiding it.”
In an interview with Agent David Loos, both Martinez and her boyfriend allegedly admitted to using methamphetamine at least four days before the accident. Zuni police officers arrested Martinez, collected her urine and it tested positive for methamphetamine.
Zuni Police officers also searched the SUV and found a green backpack that had an alleged homemade pipe with burn residue.
Indicted, held without bail
Martinez was never charged with the Molina’s death in federal magistrate court. Instead, a federal grand jury indicted her on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury on Dec. 30, 2019. The case was not entered into digital court records until Jan. 9.
Molina is referred to as “John Doe” in the indictment.
According to the indictment, Martinez was driving while under the influence of drugs when she crashed.
Following the indictment, she was arrested on Jan. 17, 2020, in Gallup, by Loos, according to the arrest warrant.
She first appeared in court on Jan. 21, 2020, where she was ordered held without bail pending a detention hearing by federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter. Federal public defender Mallory Gagan was appointed to the case and Ritter arraigned her on Jan. 22, 2020. Martinez pleaded not guilty.
On Jan. 29, 2020, Martinez waived her right to a detention hearing and Ritter ordered her held without bail.
On Feb. 21, 2020, Gagan filed a motion to continue the case. A jury trial is tentatively set for June 8, 2020.
Martinez pleaded guilty on Aug. 3, 2020, to a single count of assault causing great bodily harm. Federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing accepted the plea but deferred final acceptance until sentencing in front of a district court judge. The plea sets her sentence at 18 to 24 months.
Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez put forward the plea and agreement to sentence.
According to the plea Ruiz-Velez offered, a sentence of 18 months to 2 years is the “appropriate disposition.” It takes into account Martinez’s “acceptance of responsibility” and states her sentence should not be further decreased.
Although Fashing deferred final acceptance of the plea agreement, assuming it is accepted, the sentence of 18 months to 2 years will be binding, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C).
The entire hearing in front of Fashing took 27 minutes.
No sentencing date has been set.
Although Martinez ostensibly took responsibility by taking a plea and admitting to causing her son’s death, she is only pleading guilty to injury the unidentified woman in the opposing vehicle and the admission of facts does not say why the crash happened. She wrote that she “merged” into the lane for oncoming traffic, crashing into a truck traveling in the opposite direction and as a consequence, Christian Molina died.
The admission of facts outlines most of the narrative in the affidavit for a search warrant including:
- Martinez told the police officers who first responded that she fell asleep at the wheel
- Police found methamphetamine in her vehicle
- She told federal agents, after she was discharged from the hospital, that she used methamphetamine four days prior to the crash
- That she told those agents she was talking to her mother on the phone before the crash, dropped it when she hung up, went to pick it up and when she looked up, she was in the opposing lane
- That she tested positive for methamphetamine on July 7 and July 8, 2019, two and three days after the crash, respectively
Martinez does not write what actually happened, or what actually caused the crash, in the plea deal. Nor does she say what happened in her response in the civil case, calling what happened an “error in judgement.”
In her sentencing memorandum, Ruiz-Velez wrote there were evidentiary issues with the case. While prosecutors allege Martinez was high on methamphetamine when she crashed, and she tested positive for the drug after she crashed, she never admitted to getting high the day of the crash, four days before. She wrote:
“The drug test revealed that Defendant had methamphetamine in her system. Id. According to investigative reports, ‘the swabs used to drug test [Defendant] were sent to the Las Cruces Forensic Laboratory weeks later in an effort to determine the amount of methamphetamine [Defendant] had in her system.’ DBN 749. The swab samples were analyzed, but there were no ‘indications of any drug on them.’ DBN 751. However, the fact that drugs could not be identified ‘does not mean that no drugs were present,’ it is just that the forensic scientist could not ‘detect them.’ DBN 750. Although the evidence shows that Defendant was under the influence of methamphetamine, the level of methamphetamine in Defendant’s system could not be detected.”
Martinez brought methamphetamine back into the Zuni tribal jail after she was released to attend her son’s funeral. She tested positive for methamphetamine prior to being released and three days later when she returned, Ruiz-Velez wrote.
She also smuggled methamphetamine into the jail, later found wrapped in a soap wrapper, Ruiz-Velez wrote.
Ruiz-Velez wrote a two-year sentence is appropriate because it would fall within the normal sentencing guidelines for the charge she pleaded guilty to: assault resulting in serious bodily injury, even though if she had pleaded to involuntary manslaughter or both charges, her sentence guideline would be higher.
Martinez’s attorney, Gagan, is asking for the minimum sentence, 18 months, and that Martinez not be required to go into in-patient drug rehabilitation.
Martinez started work at the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority in 2007 and stayed for 10 years and even gave a TED talk about the restoration of the pueblo buildings. In 2017, she lost her job due to “tribal politics, — certain powerful individuals in the community did not want her, not an enrolled tribal member, to have the position,” Gagan wrote.
After she lost her job, her marriage “crumbled” and she left her children with her husband and moved in with her cousin and started using cocaine, and then methamphetamine.
“She just never quite got back on her feet,” Gagan wrote.
If Martinez had pleaded to the charge of involuntary manslaughter, been found guilty of it, or pleaded to both involuntary manslaughter and the assault charge, her sentencing guidelines would have put her sentence at a lot longer than just two years.
The sentencing guidelines put involuntary manslaughter at a “base level” of 22. A plea deal reduces that by three points, bringing what would have been her level down to 19.
Involuntary manslaughter involving a the reckless operation of a means of transportation carries a higher base level than other forms of involuntary manslaughter.
With a sentence range of 19, the guidelines put her sentence at 2 1/2 to 3 years, assuming little or no criminal history.
Martinez has a pending case in Santa Fe District Court on a charge of embezzlement of a motor vehicle.
On Nov. 20, 2020, Federal District Judge Kea Riggs accepted the binding plea deal, proffered by prosecutor Ruiz-Velez, and sentenced her to two years in prison during a hearing on Nov. 20, 2020. She said there will be a “zero-tolerance policy for substance abuse” during her three years of supervised release following her release from person, according to a minutes sheet.
The minutes do not indicate if any victims, either a woman only identified as “Mrs. Sweeney,” or 9-year-old Christian Molina‘s father, Samuel Molina, said anything during the sentencing hearing. Samuel Molina sued Martinez over the life insurance payout.
Although Martinez will get credit for the 304 days she spent in jail since she was charged in federal court, she will not receive credit for the 91 days she spent in a tribal jail, Riggs ordered.
Acceptance of the plea, and dropping the charge of involuntary manslaughter, was a decision left up to Riggs, who accepted it.
The father of Martinez’s son, Samuel Molina, filed a lawsuit against Martinez over the insurance payout from their son’s death, on Aug. 12, 2020.
Samuel Molina’s attorney, Brian Grayson, wrote in the complaint for declaratory judgement on the wrongful death recovery proceeds.
Samuel Molina, appointed the personal representative for his son’s estate, received a $50,000 settlement from an unspecified insurance policy. The lawsuit filed in August was to declare that Martinez was not entitled to any of that money.
Martinez “abandoned” Christian Molina under New Mexico law and because she caused his death, she was not entitled to any of the insurance proceeds under the Unlawful Acts Doctrine, Grayson wrote.
In a hand-written response filed Sept. 14, 2020, Martinez wrote that she was not opposed to Samuel Molina receiving the insurance payment for their son’s death.
“I am opposed to signing a document implying that I abandoned our son,” Martinez wrote. “There are statements made in the Declaratory Judgement that are inaccurate and quite frankly false. At the time Samuel and I shared custody through a mutual agreement due to our separation. I was not an absent parent.”
It is not clear what “inaccurate” or “quite frankly false” statements Martinez objected to. The complaint for declaratory judgement makes no mention of custody arrangements.
“Unfortunately, and with my deepest regret, I had an error in judgement which I will have to live with for the rest of my life,” Martinez wrote. “No amount of financial gain will every satisfy the tremendous loss we have experienced.
Martinez wrote she refused to “sign any document implicating the termination of parental rights, the abandonment of my son Christian Molina, or any other demeaning allegations.”
On Sept. 22, 2020, Grayson filed a notice of dismissal with prejudice because “all matters in controversy have been compromised and resolved,” even though Martinez “strongly denies the claims and allegations made in the Complaint for Declaratory Judgement.”
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Jodie Martinez sentenced to 2 years for 2019 Zuni crash that killed son, injured woman
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